The final days: Closing Camden's Castle
Carly Q. Romalino, Courier-Post Published 11:28 a.m. ET June 20, 2017 | Updated 2:22 p.m. ET June 20, 2017
CAMDEN - In the heat, in the snow, Terrence Pace walks the perimeter of Camden High.
He's the Castle on the Hill's knight, the guard always on duty.
"I've been out here so long I'm part of the environment," Pace, 64, said in his uniform — a smile, a security badge and a neon yellow vest.
Camden High has been under his watch since 1996.
With the Castle demolition set for the fall, Pace will get new duty orders when the next school year begins and students are relocated to the Cooper B. Hatch Middle School building while a new castle is built.
It's the view at Park and Baird boulevards Pace will miss.
He fell in love with the Castle nearly five decades ago.
Pace was supposed to attend Woodrow Wilson High in the early 1970s. He lasted only days there, he joked.
In his sophomore year he started at Camden High, graduating in 1973 and marrying his high school sweetheart in '74.
Forty-three years later, he still cant beat the view.
"I love the view right here, right in the front," he said, motioning from the Castle's marble steps to the words "The Camden High School" chiseled into stone above its entranceway arch to the tip of the tower.
"The blue sky behind it. It's beautiful."
School administrators don't dispute the building's architectural beauty. But, they say it's crumbling. That's just one of the building's problems.
On Monday — the last day ever at the original Camden High — scorching sun melted roof tar. It dripped though the ceiling in the main building's windowless cafeteria and stuck to the tile floor.
In spite of a community push to save the 101-year-old building, it's on schedule to begin coming down in October, with full deconstruction in January, according to Camden School District spokesman Brendan Lowe.
Teachers have until June 30 to box up their classrooms. Moving crews will get the school's contents on trucks and unloaded at Hatch in July. Teachers can start reassembling their classrooms in August, Lowe said.
Hassan Sabree, the band director, is in "full move-out mode."
Music stands were in the hallway outside his lower-level classroom. Instruments were packed in their cases, loaded to shelving with wheels and pushed in front of lockers. Piles of sheet music pulled from the back of closets covered his desk.
Packing up, he uncovered two music gems tucked away for decades in the room's closets, calling one find "the best piece of music" he's seen.
It's a Camden High march dated to 1910. He also found the original sheet music for the Purple and Gold alma mater song from the University of Penn written in 1896.
"To go through every closet, check every room for our different instruments and things, might take a little bit," he said.
"We have to the 30th, but I have a feeling it might take me a little bit longer."
The clean-out is bittersweet for the director in his fifth year teaching at the school.
He is a 1995 graduate.
"A ton of years I've spent in this band room. It's very nostalgic, a bittersweet end to the Castle on the Hill," Sabree said.
"It's hard to let all the memories go ... but you have to grow."
On the last day of school, one dedicated student stuck it out in the band room, one of the few rooms in the Castle with air conditioning.
Tyshaan Frisbey, 14, just finished his freshman year. But he's been a Mighty Marching Panthers member, rehearsing in the band room, since fifth grade.
The teen, a saxophone player, said he's surprisingly sentimental about his days in the room. The band rehearses two more times before summer performances in parades July 3 and 4.
"When I got to high school, I thought there was no more kid stuff," Tyshaan, a former Hatch student, said, shaking his head.
"I'm going back to my old school for three more years."
Since elementary school he looked forward to being part of Camden High and its traditions.
For the Class of 2017, Tuesday marked the final batch of Camden High graduates to participate in the annual march from the front steps of the Castle on the Hill to commencement at the football field on Park Boulevard.
"I always wanted to do that as a kid,"said junior Eli Sloan El.
"I was looking forward to prom, standing in front of the Castle, showing it off."
The 17-year-old football player and friend Ethan Tarte, 16, admitted they're sad the high school and certain traditions — such as prom photos on the marble steps — will be demolished come 2018.
"I don't know if the feeling is going to be the same anymore," Ethan, a sophomore, said.
Ethan, a varsity basketball player, said he'll miss games in the gym. That at least two and as many as seven games next season are expected to be played at Rutgers University-Camden could be a consolation, Lowe said.
Both Ethan and Eli follow a line of Camden High grads who looked forward to having similar high school experiences, the teens explained.
"They all left their legacy here, and they're waiting for me to leave mine," Ethan said.
The building doesn't make the high school experience, Principal Alex Jones said.
He called a new building a "second reincarnation" of the Castle on the Hill.
Jones started the "I am The High" initiative.
"No matter where I go, The High is with me," the principal said.
"With all the memories we've made here, we'll make more. Being part of the experience is not just the building."
Carly Q. Romalino; (856) 486-2476; firstname.lastname@example.org